January 12, 2012

Roasted Chicken & Butternut Squash Soup

Great for a cold, stormy day.

I love this soup because it is so f-ing easy! Oh, and tasty too, of course. If you've never broken down a butternut squash before, don't be scared. It's fairly easy once you get the hang of it. Everyone has their own way of doing it but here's a good tutorial video. Just remember to cut your squash into fairly uniform pieces so they cook evenly. Depending on how large your squash is, and how soupy you like your soup, you may have to add more chicken broth. For a heartier soup, try adding some small pasta, noodles or even rice. I like to eat this soup with some crusty toasted bread on the side. Make a double batch and freeze half for a rainy, lazy day dinner.

Roasted Chicken & Butternut Squash Soup
(4 servings)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, cored & diced into medium cubes
1 medium yellow onion, medium diced
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 lemon, zested & juiced
more lemons, cilantro, green onion, sour cream for garnish

- Preheat oven to 425F. Toss cubed squash, onion & chicken thighs 
with olive oil, salt & pepper. Arrange on a sheet pan in a single layer 
(you may need two sheets to hold everything- if so, place one in the top 
third and another in the lower third of the oven, rotating halfway through cooking)

- Roast 30-35 minutes until chicken is cooked through and squash is tender.

- Transfer chicken to a plate to cool. Discard skin & bone, chop into desired size.

- Combine broth, cooked squash & onion, cumin, lemon zest into a large pot. 
Bring to a simmer & mash the squash to your desire (use the back of your spoon 
or a potato masher). Add the chopped chicken & lemon juice into 
the soup, salt & pepper to taste. Add more broth if you want it soupier. 

- Serve with a dollop of sour cream, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, cilantro & green onions. 
Some crusty bread on the side would be delicious as well.

Garnish to your heart's desire!

Psst! Here's a quick little tip: instead of keeping cans of chicken broth in my pantry, I keep this little jar in my fridge, "Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base". Just add 1 tsp of this paste to 1 cup of hot water et voila, instant chicken broth that allows you to make as much or as little as you need. You can also adjust the concentration of the broth by adding more or less paste. Don't you hate opening a container of chicken stock then not using all of it (then forgetting about it in the fridge...)? One jar makes about 38 cups of broth which at $5/jar turns out to be a huge money saver. You can find this little guy next to the regular chicken stock in any grocery store. Love this product!

January 10, 2012

Winter Pear Salad with Blue Cheese & Candied Walnuts

Call me crazy but I love a good salad. Good = satisfying, light and tasty all at the same time. Sounds simple right? But you'd be amazed at how hard that is to find! Of the few truly memorable salads I've had lately, this is one of my favorites. It's a combo of some great winter flavors - juicy pears, candied walnuts - with tangy blue cheese and a creamy vinaigrette. Throw some grilled chicken on top and you've got a filling dinner salad.

The only thing you can really do wrong when making this salad is probably using that bland iceberg lettuce - so don't! You can also substitute a sweet apple (Fuji, Honey Crisp) for the pear. Making the candied walnuts is probably the hardest part, and it's not even that hard. Just watch the walnuts during the last 5 minutes to make sure they're not burning. Remember that they continue to cook after you pull them out of the oven. So if they're still a little sticky after 20 minutes in the oven, don't worry too much. Make sure they have good color and the sugar will crystallize once they cool down. You can always stick them back in the oven to continue cooking, but you can't un-cook something that's been overcooked. The following recipe makes a big batch but you can keep them in an airtight container to throw into other salads or to snack on.

Winter Pear Salad with Blue Cheese & Candied Walnuts
(2 servings)

2 handfuls salad greens
1 Anjou pear, cored and sliced
2 tbsp crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup candied walnuts
Grilled & sliced chicken breast (optional)
Dijon vinaigrette

- Divide all the ingredients onto two plates. Dress with the vinaigrette & enjoy!

Candied Walnuts
(2 1/2 cups, ~10 servings)

10 oz walnuts
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

- Preheat oven to 325F. Line sheet pan with parchment paper/foil.
- Bring water to a boil. Boil walnuts for 2 minutes. Drain well.
- Mix together powdered sugar, salt, cinnamon & nutmeg in large bowl. Set aside.
- Toss cooked walnuts with sugar mix until evenly coated. Spread mixture out onto prepared sheet pan in one layer.
- Bake for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Gently break apart with your hands. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Dijon Vinaigrette 
(4 servings) 

1 tsp Dijon mustard (grainy)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

- Whisk everything together until creamy. You can easily halve this recipe for 2 salad servings.